Big turnout for Italian primary a vote for mainstream politics

Tue, Nov 27, 2012, 00:00

Those who argue that an austerity climate of tax hikes and public service cuts has led to widespread disillusionment with mainstream politics in Italy might have to think again. On Sunday, to the surprise of many, more than three million voters turned out for the first round of primaries to elect the centre-left Democratic Party’s (PD) candidate for prime minister at next spring’s general election.

The large turnout was arguably more significant than the result which, as widely predicted, saw PD party leader Pier-luigi Bersani top the poll with 44.9 per cent, nine points clear of his closest rival, mayor of Florence Matteo Renzi, on 35.6 per cent. Both men will contest a run-off vote next Sunday. The last such PD primaries, in 2009, saw an almost identical turnout.

After more than a year of government by the non-elected “technocrat” Mario Monti, it would seem that one section of the Italian electorate is anxious to have its democratic say.

“Even before we know the winner between Bersani and Renzi in next Sunday’s run-off, we already have a winner. That winner is called democracy. That winner is called politics. And we are not talking of a politics inflicted on ‘subjects’ who are overburdened and disgusted by power, but rather a politics engaged in by aware and responsible citizens,” commented Rome daily La Repubblica.

The primaries prompt two questions. First, can party loyalist Mr Bersani head off the gathering momentum behind young pretender Mr Renzi, someone who has spent much of the last two years arguing that a whole generation of PD leaders should be thrown on the scrapheap? Second, does the success of the primaries mean it is politically and culturally unacceptable that Italy might again turn to the unelected Prof Monti to continue to lead it through the euro crisis?

Many outside observers and EU governments would dearly like to see Mr Monti stay.

For the rest of Europe, he is a much more reassuring figure than either an inexperienced centre-left prime minister or, even more worryingly, Silvio Berlusconi, who by all accounts is considering a return to the political fray.